IT’S the stuff Australian bush ballads are made of, but there aren’t too many jolly swagman left traversing the rugged country with a swag slung over their back.
Except, 30 kilometres south of Uralla trudges Grant John Cadoret, ‘The Highwayman’.
Days earlier, whispers Cadoret was plodding up the Moonbi’s made their way through town – and there he was, fishing a coke and some water out of a plastic bag someone had kindly left for him on the side of the New England Highway.
“People are really generous, sometimes I think they’re encouraging me,” he said, sitting on a his swag in a patch of dirt, swigging at his drink.
“I just like the freedom, I go at my own pace, I do what I want, I can change my direction at any corner.
“I mix and match every year.”
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The Highwayman has been on the road for forty years, after a three month holiday turned into a lifestyle.
Growing up in Minyip, Victoria, population 900 back then – now 500, Cadoret said he was always drawn to freedom.
As a kid he could pretty much do what he liked, except misbehave, because someone would always dob him in.
“Dad was a house painter and mum stayed at home, we’d just wander off unlike kids today,” he said.
“As soon as I finished exams I became a painter’s labourer, mum wanted me to have a safe job which to her meant government.
“So she wrote off and the first letter back came from the Commonwealth Bank.”
And there he worked, sitting at his desk day-in, day-out, for the next four years.
“I got the shits with some job I was doing and I thought, ‘Blow this,’” he said.
So he took to the road, living off the money he’d earned at the bank until eventually the well dried up.
Then he just ate whatever he picked up between Victoria and Toowoomba, Queensland.
For the first ten years he accepted lifts, now he prefers to walk.
“I’ve got no plans of stopping while the body holds up,” he said.
“There was a lot of hitchhikers in those days, you’d go past a town and there’d always be people with their thumb out waiting for a lift – I’ve seen two or three hitchhikers in six months.
“I was living off the road, just surviving day to day.”
Now he’s got more generosity than he ever bargained for.
With Facebook groups popping up all over the Internet, those in the rat race keep an eye out for The Highwayman.
“It goes in bursts, sometimes the people that want to talk to me are almost lining up – I get a lot of waves and toots,” he said.
“People don’t let me go without lunch these days, I’ve had a bloke come out from Armidale the last two days with a big feed.
“It doesn’t worry me, I just sit down and have a chat – I wonder why they do it sometimes.”
Depending on the time of year, Cadoret might head out to Cobar or Broken Hill.
This year he plans to take the Waterfall Way, down through Dorrigo and out to the coast before heading up north.
A round trip takes him 12 to 18 months, depending on how many breaks he has to read or enjoy a meal.
“On a fine day I get a lot of people saying they’d love to be doing this,” he said.
“I don’t know if they’d be so agreeable in the rain or the sleet – but one of my favourite things is the change of the seasons.”
Back in the day police officers used to pull Cadoret up for hitchhiking, now they know him.
“They’d ask me for my ID – problem is I never had it,” he said.